As back-to-school season approaches, students and their families will be adjusting back from the carefree days of summer vacation to the routine of school. Along with school supply shopping, early morning school bus rides and extracurriculars, the first day of school also signals the return of homework. While it's important for students to focus on their academic success, studies show that sacrificing sleep for study time won't help them make the grade.

Research Confirms Sleep is Essential to Academic Success

"As students enter high school, the pressure to excel academically increases, said Dr. Ramon Cuevas, pediatric neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Neurology and Sleep Medicine. "Kids start worrying about college, and the academic workload is increasing dramatically. It's not unusual for dedicated students to push back bedtime so they can study into the night."

While it can be a challenge to put down the books when bedtime arrives, research shows it's essential to academic success and overall health. Researchers at UCLA analyzed the sleep and study habits of 535 Los Angeles students in grades 9, 10, and 12. For two weeks, students self-recorded the time they spent on each day studying and the number of hours of sleep they got each night.

Researchers found that delaying bedtime for more study time was linked to increased academic difficulty, including struggling to understand the class material and performing poorly on tests and quizzes. And this was true no matter how much total time students spent studying.

The Risks of Sleep Deprivation in Teens

It might not seem like a bad thing to sacrifice a little bit of sleep for some extra study time, but sleep deprivation in teens can have some unintended consequences. In addition to poor academic performance, insufficient sleep has been associated with many negative health effects:

  • Lack of sleep in teens has been associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, stress and excessive worrying.
  • Teens who don't get sufficient sleep are more likely to gain weight. Studies suggest that those who sleep less, both children and adults, tend to consume more calories throughout the day and eat foods with higher fat content.
  • Studies show that teenagers who don't get the proper amount of sleep are at a higher risk for engaging in risky behaviors, including smoking, drinking, drug use, and fighting. 

Help Your Teenager Get the Sleep They Need

Any parent of a teenager will agree that teens are predisposed to stay up late and sleep in the next morning. This isn't just a teenager's preference, but stems from teens' need for more sleep than adults. While it can be difficult to manage a teen's sleep schedule, some strategies can help your child get the sleep they need:

  • Keep technology out of the bedroom. "Cell phones, tablets and other digital devices shouldn't be in your child's bedroom," cautions Dr. Cuevas. "These devices disrupt our natural sleep patterns, and having them in the bedroom can keep teens from sleep. As a rule of thumb, charge the whole family's cell phones and tablets in the living room and leave them behind when it's time for bed."
  • Establish a bedtime that allows for about nine hours of sleep per night. Calculate backward from when your child needs to be awake for school to decide on the appropriate bed time, and then stick to it. If possible, try to keep all members of the household on a similar sleep schedule so your teen doesn't feel resentful about going to bed.
  • It's okay for your child to sleep in on the weekends — A little bit. While it's natural for teens to want to sleep in after a busy week at school, too much sleep at once will make them feel even more tired. Teens should keep a sleep schedule that is similar to their weekday routine, but an extra hour or two on the weekends is fine.

While we all want to encourage our children to study hard and complete their schoolwork, it's important to remember that encouraging them to get a good night's sleep could be the best asset to their academic success.

Learn More

For more information about how sleep habits can affect your child's academic success, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cuevas, call Rocky Mountain Pediatric Neurology and Sleep Medicine at 303-226-7230,